New Domestic Well Prohibition in the Pahrump Artesian Basin

On December 19, 2017, Nevada State Engineer issued Order No. 1293, prohibiting the drilling of new domestic wells in the Pahrump Artesian Basin. Previously, the State Engineer designated lands in Pahrump Artesian Basin as coming under the provisions of underground water law through Orders 176, 193 and 2051. Prior Orders stated that new applications would be denied with very limited exceptions. Recently the State Engineer conducted further investigation into this basin and determined that due to the rate and extent to which groundwater is being depleted, that prohibition of domestic wells under Order No. 1293 is vital to the welfare of the basin.

The State Engineer estimates that the perennial yield of the Pahrump Artesian Basin, or the maximum amount that can be withdrawn to still allow the basin to recharge, is 20,000 acre-feet annually. Yet, the State Engineer estimates that the amount of water from committed rights (amounts of water provided under Permits and Certificates issued by NDWR) amounts to approximately 59,175 acre-feet of withdrawals from the basin. Therefore, the permitted rights authorize almost triple the amount of water that can be withdrawn without impeding the ability of the basin to recharge itself. However, because domestic wells are not subject to permit requirements, this estimated withdrawal number is actually higher as domestic well withdrawals are not included. In fact, Order No. 1293 estimates that there are approximately 11,280 existing domestic wells in the Pahrump Artesian Basin.  Thus, if each well were withdrawing the maximum of 2 acre-feet per year, water withdrawals from the domestic wells alone would exceed the perennial yield. In theory, all wells in the basin may be withdrawing close to 4 times the amount the basin can manage.

Order 1293 prohibits the drilling of any new domestic well, unless a user can obtain an existing permitted right to cover the 2.0 acre feet per year to serve the “new” use. Thus, the only way to obtain a new domestic use will be to go out and buy a water right!  Once purchased, these acquired rights will be “given back” to the basin under a relinquishment process with NDWR while allowing the domestic use to continue without a water right. Further exempted from Order 1293 are domestic wells requiring rehabilitation under Nevada Administrative Code (“NAC”) 534.189, wells requiring reconditioning under NAC 534.188, or existing wells needing replacement.

The domestic well exemption was a great policy for many single families wishing to develop their property. However, protecting our valuable water resources is top priority, and this purchase and relinquishment program will still allow for property development with proper resource protection. For a full reading of Order 1293, please visit http://images.water.nv.gov/images/Orders/1293o.pdf.

1Nevada Revised Statutes (“NRS”) chapter 534.013 defines domestic use as culinary and household purposes for a single-family dwelling, watering of a family garden and lawn and watering of livestock, domestic animals and household pets. Pursuant to NRS 534.180, if a well is being used for domestic use and the use does not exceed 2 acre-feet per year, the well is exempt from the permitting process under with Nevada Division of Water Resources (“NDWR”) for water use.  

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